Researchers at the University of Utah have been busily discovering a way to make directionally-assisted driving more effective - through touch.
Right now, GPS is all the rage, in both senses of the word. Not only are GPS systems sweeping the globe as the "must-have" device for cars, but they are being swept up around the globe as people throw them from their windows, frustrated at being told to "turn left here" for the eighth time, when "here" is in fact a large and very solid brick wall.
Add to that the fact that GPS directions are typically either spoken aloud or displayed on a screen, and the system itself can actually create a distracted driving situation, or make one worse. Taking your eyes off of the road to look at a tiny LED map may mean that although you know where your turn is up ahead, you don't realize that the semi truck in front of you is honking at your car since you've begun to stray across the yellow line.
Or, you may simply not hear the GPS directions over the din of your cell-phone or passenger-related chatter, meaning that you miss one of many turns you were supposed to take.
The unrelenting Utahninas (Utonians?) went to work and came up with a simple way for drivers to get the direction they need without looking away from the road or being distracted by idle chatter. Using a set of IBM Trackpoint Caps - they look like tiny pencil erasers - the Utah team set up a driving simulator in which the steering wheel contained embedded Caps that drivers would rest their fingertips on. When the time came to move left or right, the Trackpoint Caps would gently "pull" the skin the appropriate direction.
The Steering Wheel: Improved!
Tests were conducted with drivers both on and off cellphones, and using both touch stimulation and computer voice direction. When not using a cellphone, drivers were accurate in turning the right way up in the 95% area, regardless of whether voice or tactile stimulation was used.
When cellphones were introduced, the accuracy for computer-voice directions dropped to 74%, but the tactile stimulated moves remained high - at 98%.
While the team is quick to point out that this should not be taken as a way to encourage distracted driving, anything that helps motorists focus on the roadway - you know, the thing with the hurtling metal objects on it - is good news in our books.
Though the design hasn't yet been picked up for production, here's hoping some car manufacturer out there sees the benefit of giving drivers the touchy finger.